Montesquieu

Fatmé1 to Usbek in Erzerum


It has been two months since you left,2 my dear Usbek, and in my pre­sent dejec­tion, I still can­not make myself believe it. I cir­cu­late through the sera­glio as if you were here, and am not disa­bu­sed. What do you expect a woman who loves you to do, one who was used to hol­ding you in her arms, whose only care was to give you proofs of her affec­tion, free by the pri­vi­lege of her birth, a slave by the vio­lence of her love ?

When I mar­ried you, my eyes had never yet beheld a man’s face. You are still the only one I have been allo­wed to see,3 for I do not count as men these atro­cious eunuchs whose least imper­fec­tion is not to be men. When I com­pare the beauty of your face with the defor­mity of theirs, I can­not help fee­ling for­tu­nate ; my ima­gi­na­tion offers me no more ravi­shing thought than the enchan­ting charms of your per­son. I swear to you, Usbek, were I allo­wed to leave this place, where I am confi­ned by neces­sity of my posi­tion ; were I able to evade the guards who sur­round me ; were I allo­wed to choose among all the men who live in this capi­tal of nations, Usbek, I swear I would choose none but you : there can be no one but you on earth who deser­ves to be loved.

Do not think your absence has made me neglect a beauty that you prize : although no one is to see me, and the orna­ments I wear are irre­le­vant to your hap­pi­ness, I never­the­less strive to main­tain the habit of appea­ring attrac­tive, and do not retire until I have per­fu­med myself with the most delight­ful essen­ces. I remem­ber that happy time when you would come into my arms ; a won­der­ful dream that sedu­ces me brings to me that dear object of my love ; my ima­gi­na­tion loses itself in its desi­res as it flat­ters itself in its hopes ; I some­ti­mes think that, dis­cou­ra­ged by an arduous jour­ney, you will return to us ; the night is spent in dreams that belong nei­ther to wake­ful­ness nor to sleep ; I seek you by my side, and it seems you are fleeing me. Finally the pas­sion that devours me itself dis­per­ses these enchant­ments and rea­wa­kens me ; for that moment I feel so exci­ted… You would not believe it, Usbek. It is impos­si­ble to live in this state. Fire flows in my veins ; if only I could express to you what I feel so well ; and how can I feel so well what I can­not express to you ? At such moments, Usbek, I would give the world for a sin­gle kiss from you. How unfor­tu­nate a woman is to have such vio­lent desi­res when she is depri­ved of him who alone can satisfy them ; when left to her­self, with nothing that can dis­tract her, she must live accus­to­med to sighs and to the fury of an arou­sed pas­sion ; when far from being satis­fied, she has not even the advan­tage of ser­ving the feli­city of ano­ther, use­less orna­ment of a sera­glio, kept for honor and not for her hus­band’s plea­sure.

How cruel you men are ! You are happy for us to have desi­res we can­not satisfy ; you treat us as if we were insen­sate, and you would be most dis­plea­sed if we were. You think our desi­res so long sup­pres­sed will be arou­sed at the sight of you ; it takes effort make your­sel­ves loved ; it is qui­cker to obtain from our tem­pe­ra­ment what you dare not expect from your merit.

Adieu, my dear Usbek, adieu. Know that I live only to wor­ship you ; my soul is filled with you ; and your absence, far from making me for­get you, would excite my love if it could be become more vio­lent.

The Isfahan sera­glio this 12th day of the moon of Rebiab I, 1711

The only letter written by Fatmé, third wife of Usbek, as she confirms in this very letter.

Usbek left exactly on 19 March (Maharram).

Persian women are much more closely guarded than Turkish or Indian women [author’s note].